Tin Can Tourists History


TIN CAN TOURISTS HISTORY AND IMAGES

The Road to Enlightenment

The Tin Can Tourists were organized at Desoto Park, Tampa, Florida, in 1919. They received the official state charter a year later. The groups stated objective was “to unite fraternally all autocampers”. Their guiding principles were clean camps, friendliness among campers, decent behavior and to secure plenty of clean, wholesome entertainment for those in camp. The group grew rapidly during the twenties and thirties. Members could be inducted fellow campers through an initiation process that taught the prospective member the secret handshake, sign, and password. After singing the official song “The More We Get Together” the trailerite was an official member of the Tin Can Tourists of the World.

1920 Tin Can Tourists in Tampa, FL “Watching the Ball Game”

Gainesville camp – 1921-1922

1930s Tin Can Tourists at Zephyr Park

1930 TCT Convention Portage, Wisconsin

1942 22nd Annual Convention

TCT Past and Future

Summer reunions were held at various Midwest locations, with Traverse City, Michigan serving as a primary host city.

Black and white photo by Al Barnes is dated July 30, 1941.
Also of interest is the sign for the Tin Can Tourist. They were a big deal for Traverse City for years. They always set up at the Fairgrounds and brought a lot of money to our area. Lots of Airstream Trailers glistening in the sunlight!
Image provided in collaboration with Traverse Area District Library.

The club spent winters at Desoto Park until 1924.

Tin can tourists – 1921 or 1922. Car camping and watermelon in or around Washington, D.C.

Because locals grew tired of their park being over run with northerners, the park was closed a month early in March. The canners took the hint and moved the Winter Convention to Arcadia, where the community had built a municipal park especially for the Tin Can Tourists. By 1932, with membership estimates ranging from 30,000 to 100,000, city Chambers of Commerce were actively pursuing TCT to choose their community for either Homecoming, Winter Convention or Going Home meets. The Winter Convention was the best attended and was an economic boon to the host community. Sarasota had its eye on the prize and lured the Convention away from Arcadia in 1932. The vote on the Winter Convention site was hotly contested. Many Canners were loyal to Arcadia, the town that wanted them after their ejection from Tampa. A 250 strong car caravan let by Sarasota’s mayor and other public officials, helped swing the vote selecting Sarasota as the Winter Convention site for 1932. As a concession to those that favored Arcadia, it was designated as the official site for Homecoming festivities. In 1938, the mayor of Sarasota indicated that the national perception that Sarasota was a tin can tourist’s town was hurting the community and that he would not renew the Winter Convention contract. Tampa offered the canners a five-year deal to return to Tampa. It was accepted and the Winter Convention returned to specially built Municipal Park. The group faced membership declines due to combination of factors, (1) a schism with in the ranks and the formation of ATA, the Automobile Tourists Association, (2) an economic recession in 1939 that greatly diminished the number of trailer manufactures, and (3) the onset of World War II. Winter Convention photograph depict a much smaller group in 1948 at Tampa. The original groups “Swan Song” convention was held in Eustis, Florida in 1968. By the mid-80’s the club was no longer in existence in any form.

We have recently found new information stating Rallies were still held into the very early 1980’s and for a few years later there were a very small group that met monthly for a meal (Just about half a dozen people). So most likely a group consisting of original members still met calling themselves Tin Can Tourists, until around the mid 1980’s.

Original TCT Bell used to announce arrivals at rallies/gatherings

In 1998, Forrest and Jeri Bone renewed the club as an all make and model vintage trailer and motor coach club. The renewal gathering was held at Camp Dearborn, Milford, Michigan. Twenty-one rigs attended the May Renewal Gathering. By the end of the year, fifty members were accepted as charter members of the renewed version of the Tin Can Tourists. The group has grown steadily, currently holding Annual Gatherings in Michigan, Florida, and regional rallies at various locations in the US. Recently Regional Representatives have been added to represent England, Japan and France. The new version of Tin Can Tourists is open to all. Its goal is to abide by the original group’s objectives and guiding principles as well as the promotion and preservation of vintage trailers and motor coaches through Gatherings and information exchange.

Rain swamps Tin Can Tourists at Washington, D.C. – Two men pulling on blanket, to wring out water, as others watch, near Washington Monument, Washington, D.C

Founder Forrest Bone writes:

Jeri and I are charter members of the Vintage Airstream Club and have been owners of a 64’ Airstream Safari, 64’ Bambi II, 68’ Overlander, 63’ Globetrotter, and currently own a 1949 Airstream Southwind Liner, a 1949 Spartenette Model 24, and a 1958 Spartan Royal Mansion. While members of the VAC, we developed an interest in various brands of vintage trailers and motor coaches, culminating in our purchase of the 1958 Spartan Royal Mansion. During discussions with the VAC founder, Bud Cooper, we realized that there would not be an opportunity to experience rallies that included all makes and models. It has been the practice of Airstream to allow local units and interclub to only hold one “Buddy Rally” per year that would allow other brand trailers to participate. It was also during these discussions with Bud that he made reference to the Tin Can Tourists, noting that they were the first travel club and organizationally shared a lot of similarities with the parent Airstream organization, Wally Byam Caravan Club International. I think Bud would have liked to see the Vintage Airstream Club be more inclusive, but only for the aluminum constructed trailers. Jeri and I felt that the exclusionary policy of the WBCCI was detrimental to the development of a vintage club. We felt that a group that was open to anyone, owner or not, that shared a passion for vintage trailers and motor coaches was more desirable.

After my conversations with Bud, the Tin Can Tourists became a bit of an obsession. Jeri and I visited the Florida Historical Library in Tallahassee and went through all the available documents on the club. In 1998 we decided to renew the club by having a gathering at Camp Dearborn, Milford, Michigan. Prior to the Gathering, I contacted a trademark lawyer and had him do a mark search to make sure we were not “stepping on anyone’s toes”. We wanted to make sure there wasn’t an active branch of the group still chartered and functioned. When the legal search didn’t turn up an active group, we registered the mark (Tin Can Tourists) and proceeded with the organization of the club. As a past president of the vintage club and having served the club in various capacities, I knew one thing for sure and that was that I didn’t want to get involved in a lot of bureaucratic structuring, so Jeri and I decided that we would run the club as “directors”. A couple of years ago, we asked some members to serve as regional representatives for the purpose of developing TCT activities in their geographical region and to serve as a sounding board for any ideas we or other members might put forth.

Tin Can Tourists Winter Convention, Sarasota Florida 1936 1,058 Trailers and House Cars / 2,216 attending members! Note the huge circus like tent! That area was for the New trailers on display!

Basically, TCT offers its members a chance to meet and have fun with other owners who share their interest in vintage RV’s. You don’t have to own a vintage trailer or motor coach to participate. We have a number of members including charter members, that come every year to the Annual Gathering that do not currently own a vintage rig.

During the late 1920’s the Tin Can Tourists spent Thanksgiving in Arcadia, Florida and enjoyed a sumptuous community dinner.

The 1920s were a very exciting time in Florida. Automobiles were moving rapidly off the assembly lines, regular folks were able to afford them, and Florida was beckoning with sunshine and the promise of an easy life and good times. Gainesville’s businessmen welcomed those regular folks by providing facilities for camping in their cars-not as comfortable as today’s campers, but certainly the same idea. People would rig their cars up with folding side tents or convert trucks with sleeping arrangements in the truckbed. There was a national club, called “Tin Can Tourists,” which was organized in 1919 at DeSoto Park in Tampa; members were recognized by a tin can soldered to the radiator cap of a member’s car.

This is a 1922 membership card for the Tin Can Tourists

There is a modern Tin Can Tourist’s Vintage Trailer & Motor Coach Gathering which hopes to renew the group’s goals of providing “safe and clean camping areas, wholesome entertainment, and high moral values.” One camp was located in Gainesville and another in Archer. The location of this camp is believed to be the present-day site of Alachua General Hospital (or Shands at AGH).

Today’s travelers move on superhighways and stay in modern motels; they also have the choice of traveling in campers or recreational vehicles that offer many of the comforts of home. But in the 1920s after World War I, when many folks began moving to Florida, moving meant braving uncertain lodging. Tin Can tourism (using the car and a tent for lodging) was a common solution. One camp, aptly named “Tin Can Tourist Camp,” was located in Gainesville and another with the same name was in Archer southeast of the Maddox Foundry. The location of this camp is believed to be the present-day site of Alachua General Hospital (or Shands at AGH). Very close inspection of this photograph shows a traveling truck-home that had “Adams Autohome” painted on it while one of the canvas-top automobiles had pennants that said “Chicago” and “Sister Lakes.” William Reuben Thomas, Gainesville’s very progressive and business-minded mayor, promoted tin can tourism, hoping to lure new citizens to the area.

TCT Convention in Tampa in 1949. This picture is of the area set aside for Trailer Dealers! Besides being a typical rally get together, the TCT Rallies back in the day would have MANY trailers set up by dealers and companies showing the new models of trailers being produced! The cars in the photo were likely the vehicles used to pull all of these trailers!!!! They all have heavy duty hicthes on the back! Being that the TCT Convention would have been in the Winter, these new trailers might have been the new 1950 Models to come out.

Twenty-fifth annual Tin Can Tourists convention at Tampa Fl 1948

Tin Can Tourists playing shuffleboard at a Dade City Fl camp 1936

Tin Can Tourists in Indialantic Fl 1922

Tin Can Tourists Gainesville, Florida 1921

Tin Can Tourists’ convention hall picture

Tin Can Tourists convention dinner preparation Eustis FL 1969

Tin Can Tourists convention at Dade city

Tin Can Tourists convention 1953 Arcadia Fl

Tin Can Tourists camping park in De Land FL 1930

Tin Can Tourists’ band Sarasota, Florida 1940

Tin Can Tourists at De Soto Park in Tampa Fl 1920

Tin Can Tourists at De Soto Park in Fl 1920

 

Tin Can tourists at Arcadia Fl 1947

Tin Can Tourists Arcadia, Florida 1933

TCT in Arcadia Fl 1947

TCT Dixieland

TCT Arcadia Fl

Preparing Thanksgiving turkeys at Tin Can Tourists 1952 convention Melbourne FL

House car of L.N. Barlow at Tin Can Tourists convention 1929 Arcadia picture

House car named Harriet at Tin Can Tourists convention 1929 Arcadia picture

House car at Tin Can Tourists convention Arcadia picture 1929

Barbecue at a Tin Can Tourists convention

1942 Ad from Trailer Topics Magazine for the TCT summer Convention

1929 Tin Can Tourists convention Arcadia, Florida

1930s TCT Brass Plaque

1921 Ford Topics Article

1941 TCT Rally Advertisement

1922 Tin Can Tourists camp: Gainesville, Florida

Rear View Mirror – TCT Historical Tidbits

Tin Can Tourists Helped Boost Sarasota Economy

Author: Ann A. Shank, former County Historian

Source: Sarasota County History Center

The Tin Can Tourists of the World organized at DeSoto Park in Tampa after World War I and had a major impact on tourism in Sarasota, especially in the 1930s. Their membership card listed their purposes: to unite fraternally all auto campers, to provide clean and wholesome entertainment at all campfires and to help enforce the rules governing all camp grounds. Their emblem was a tin can worn on the front of the car. A local group of Tin Can Tourists organized in January 1921 with eleven members. The title of their presiding officer was “Chief Tin Can Opener.” While Tin Canners came to Sarasota during the 1920s, staying in a number of auto camps around the city, it was not until 1932 that Sarasota hosted the winter convention of the TCT.

In 1931 Mayor E.A. Smith and other community leaders decided to lure the annual TCT convention away from Arcadia, where it had been conducted for a number of years. A motorcade of nearly 250 cars drove from Sarasota to Arcadia, parking in the camp. Carrying banners inviting the TCT to Sarasota, community leaders distributed free copies of the Sarasota Herald and gave speeches promoting the change in venue. The Sarasota Bay Post 30 American Legion Band presented a concert to the 2,000 campers. When the vote was counted, Sarasota had won the contest.

From 1932 to 1938 the winter TCT convention met in Sarasota, just east of the Payne Park ball field. Several thousand campers attended each year and participated in a variety of activities. The annual TCT parade along Main Street included trailers from the modern to the historic, floats representing the camper’s home states, clowns and a number of bands.

While business meetings were scheduled several times during the week, more time was devoted t having fun. There were horseshoe and shuffleboard contests, baseball, boxing, wrestling and field sports. For those who preferred to sit, there were competitions in bridge, 500 and pinochle.

The TCT prided itself on the high standards of conduct for its members. Rules in their camps prohibited the use of liquor, firearms, open fires, vile language or disorderly conduct. Dishwater was not to be thrown on or around shrubbery. Quiet was kept between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.

Although the “tin can” name had been considered a joke by both the members and public in the organization’s early days, by the time the Tin Canners met in Sarasota, the name was taken seriously. Not only did it stand for tourists who cared for their camps, it also represented people who contributed much to the local economy. Businesses placed large display ads in the Sarasota Herald during the TCT convention and the Sarasota Merchants Association offered free bus shuttle service between the TCT grounds and Five Points.

Although the TCT is no longer around, Payne Park continued to invite and attract the tourist and resident alike. For many years, Payne Park was home to the Sarasota Mobile Home Park, a hub of activity for east and central Sarasota. The mobile home park was closed several years ago, and in 2008, Payne Park reopened with much fanfare as an extensive recreational park, delighting visitors and residents alike.

TCT and Sarasota

Sarasota Mayor Verman Kimbrough (1937-1939) indicated on the day the Winter Convention opened that the city would not extend the offer to host the Convention in the city beyond 1937 – reasons stated, the desire to turn Sarasota Tourists Park in to a destination park for visitors that would stay for six months rather then the shorter time covered by the TCT Convention – By Thursday, he back off the position due to merchant protest – after the merchants expressed their desire to retain the Convention the city once again restated their denial of extending an invitation to TCT. Mayor Kimbrough indicated that there was a general perception that Sarasota was a “Tin Can Tourists Town”

1937 Winter Convention Highlights: All members were to display the TCT emblem on their vehicles; The camp had a Royal Chief’s Row for parking and the leadership positions became hotly contested; The TCT leadership responded to what they throught was an implied slur by Mayor Kimbrough – Royal Chief McKnight said members will match brains, money or marbles with the mayor and that the campers had spent over $650,000 in Sarasota since December 1; Tourist Camp $.35 per night – $1.00 per week for 2 people – $.10 extra per person – Electric $.10 per day, $.35 per week – Electric suitable for heating $.50 per day, $2.00 per week

TCT is proud to be returning to the Sarasota area for the 2008 convention. We tried to secure a site in Sarasota County, but once again the club had to look to the tourist friendly town of Bradenton and Manatee County to find a site.

‘Tin can tourists’ loved Jacksonville

Thirty bucks was a lot of cabbage for a can of sauerkraut.

It was gladly paid in January 1921, for a special can of ‘kraut.

The premium was on the sum of its parts. It had great sentimental value, so to speak.

Tin Can Tourists assembled north of Jacksonville the winter of 1921. The opening of the Jacksonville bridge across the St. Johns would open a lush vista of Florida that lay beyond the river.

Like a big magnet, Jacksonville pulled the Tin Cans, the auto tourists of the day.

The Tin Can crowd put a new face on vagabonding after the Great War.

Automobile trailer tourism was somewhat a luxury. Not unlike RV life of today, perhaps, but a lot more primitive. It was a novelty, an adventure. One never knew what was around the bend.

Automobiles themselves had not been around that long. Roads were routes of chance. There were no motels. Hardly any billboards. Not even Waffle Houses, if you can imagine such a thing.

Ever on the cutting edge, Jacksonville had set up a Tin Can Tourist Park.

The park was yonder out Main Street, west of the fair grounds.

W.D. Flynn was superintendent. He ran a tight ship, by contemporary accounts.

Campers gave the Jacksonville park high marks, The Florida Times-Union said.

Jacksonville has a warm place in their hearts. Many declared they had sent dozens of letters and post cards to friends in other camps or back home, urging them to come here and accept the hospitality of Jacksonville.

The can of sauerkraut entered legend when newcomers were initiated into the camp’s ad hoc grand fraternal order.

Following a festive and ritual weiner roast, the newcomers were entitled to the Grand Emblem of the Jacksonville Camp of Tin Can Tourists.

Sadly there was no emblem.

The can of sauerkraut would suffice.

It was the last of several from the weiner roast.

The group conscience decided to raffle off this last can.

A kid bought it for 50 cents.

Not enough, he exclaimed. Who's got sporting blood?

The kid got $1.50 for the can, from a lady from Los Angeles. She put it up again.

Another initiate bid $5; he wanted to put the can on his radiator cap.

Flynn suggested half a can would make just as good an emblem on the radiator cap.

An auction commenced for the second half.

A guy from Peoria bought it for $11.

Then they sold the ‘kraut and the label. The kid’s mother bought them, for $10.

I'll put this under glass and keep it as a souvenir of the most enjoyable winter I ever spent, she said.

After the can, contents and label were disposed of, it was discovered the one container of 'kraut had brought the organization $30, believed to be a record price for such a commodity, the Times-Union said.

Flynn told the initiates the Tin Can Tourist must possess three requisites:

To be able to ride and stick with anything that wiggles, slides or rolls, to be able to always find one's way about and to make a home wherever one may be and, last, to prove a good fellow, able to entertain and be entertained.

“Tin Can Tourists” Meet in Sandusky

From August 3 to 17, 1936, the Tin Can Tourists of America had their summer convention at the Erie County Fairgrounds in Sandusky, Ohio. Over 1,500 members traveled with their trailers for the outing. The Sandusky Chamber of Commerce cooperated with the Tin Can Tourists in planning the event, and the city of Sandusky provided fire protection.

The August 13 Sandusky Register reported that the cost for parking a trailer was one dollar per week, with fifty cents extra for those using electricity. A local committee, headed by Theodore J. Butts, organized outings to area attractions, such as Cedar Point, Crystal Rock Caves, the Blue Hole, and Edison’s Birthplace. Harry Bolus, a former member of the Al G. Fields Minstrels, was in charge of entertainment. Each night the tourists enjoyed dances and other special entertainment. The summer event featured the largest exhibit of trailer manufacturers “ever presented to trailerdom.”

The New York Times featured an article about the Tin Can Tourists on August 2, 1926, and Modern Mechanix carried an article entitled “Trailer Life Lures More Thousands” in its November 1936 issue. Peggy Riccelli is pictured in a toy automobile and trailer owned by the son of Dr. Lester Mylander. The Erie County Fairgrounds is still a popular gathering place. It served as the official campground for participants of the popular Ohio Bike Week.

TRAILER LIFE LURES MORE THOUSANDS

Modern Mechanix (Nov, 1936)

Tin Can Tourists’ Reunion in Sandusky reflects growing boom in business of escaping rent by house car dwelling.

NEW impetus has been given the boom in trailer travel by the exhibits and meetings of the Automobile Tourists Association at Manistee, Mich., and the reunion of the Tin Can Tourists of the World at Sandusky, Ohio.

Thousands more are turning to life on wheels and a dozen additional automobile makers are planning to add house cars to their lines as a result of the interest displayed. The Sandusky gathering gave birth to a new organization of builders, the Coach Trailer Manufacturers’ Association.

Registration at the Manistee gathering, the third for the A. T. A., reached 5,726 and at Sandusky over 2,000 persons in 500 trailers enjoyed themselves for several weeks at the Erie County Fair Grounds. Thirty manufacturers displayed new models of every type at both gatherings.

Scores of noted trailer travelers gathered at Sandusky to hear that the organization had grown to 97,000 members since its formation at Tampa, Fla., in 1919 and to enjoy a recreation program arranged by the entertainment committee of Harry Bolus, Mansfield, Ohio.

Mr. Bolus knows something about entertaining. For many years he was a member of the Fields Minstrels and was long a vaudeville star. Though they have a home in Mansfield, Mr. and Mrs. Bolus spend much of their time in their famous trailer.

Oldest of the tourists present was R. W Vaughn of Rome City, Ind. A charter member of the organization and a former officer, he is still active in its affairs at the age of 85. He credits his health to life in the open.

Mrs. Guy E. Russell of Ripley, N. Y., who has spent most of the recent years living in a trailer with her husband and their four children, was enthusiastic in her praise of house car life.

“We have less worries and after a while one takes on a more cheerful outlook on life,” she said. “We live far cheaper than we could in most any city.

“The time required for cleaning our home daily is negligible. In the food problem, we have the advantage of picking up fresh vegetables and fruits from roadside stands. Hucksters make daily rounds.

“We don’t eat any more canned food than city folk though we are called ‘Tin Canners!’ Meats, ice and other necessities are bought from nearby stores and delivery service is given if we are staying a while. Prices are less than average. We nearly always buy in quantities, and farmers and truck gardeners give us a rate.

“My children get every advantage of education. When we stay in a place for several months, they are sent to the public schools. In some subjects, geography and history, they excel. They have traveled through most of the 48 states and learn more by seeing than they could from books.”

The M. McCune family of Detroit attracted considerable attention in a luxurious self-built trailer housing eight persons. It contains four double beds and is handsomely arranged with walnut woodwork, mohair lounges and imitation snake-skin wall covering. Mr. and Mrs. H. H. Collier of Miami, Fla., brought six canary birds to the gathering.

Ira W. Green of Vassar, Mich., royal chief, said attendance exceeded that of the previous reunion and predicted a record attendance at the Sarasota, Fla. Officers are elected and business transacted at this meeting. Capt. Edward H. Jungclas, president and secretary of the A. T. A., announced a get-together meeting at Lake City, Fla., Nov. 22 to 28, and a winter convention at Clearwater, Fla., Jan. 29 to Feb. 8.

Ease and enjoyment of the trailer dwellers at the meetings converted many to the idea. Groups sat about under awnings. Women clicked needles at knitting or crocheting. Dogs frolicked on the grounds. There was a checker tournament, dances and movies. Monday is wash day.

The “Tin Canners” are an organization without dues, fees or assessments. The name comes from their food and not their vehicles. Their original emblem was a can tied to a radiator cap. A neat metal emblem is now placed on car fronts. The sale of emblems and membership badges provides entertainment and operating expenses for the organization.

Carl Schelm, president of Schelm Brothers, Peoria, Ill., was elected president of the new trailer manufacturers’ association. B. R. Scheff, sales manager Palace Travel Coach Co., was chosen vice president; R. E. Merrill, sales manager, Kabin Koach, Detroit, treasurer.

Directors in addition to officers are W. J. Schult, president Schult Trailer Co., Elkhart, Ind.; Norman C. Wolfe, president Silver Dome Co., Detroit; A. G. Sherman, president Covered Wagon Co., Mt. Clemens, Mich.; Earl Raymond, treasurer Raymond Products Co., Saginaw, Mich.; Roy Gilkinson, general manager Gilkie Trailer Co., Terre Haute, Ind.; Clarence M. Lutes, owner Kozy Coach Co., Kalamazoo, Mich.

The organization plans a series of winter trailer exhibitions in various parts of the country. A trailer show will be a feature of the annual New York Auto Show opening this year on Nov. 11.

Many automobile and truck manufacturers have entered the trailer field either directly or through subsidiaries. Among the latest are the Pierce-Arrow Motor Corp. of Buffalo with the Travelodge, the Federal Motor Truck Co. of Detroit with the Motohome and Motomart. The Hayes Body Co. is making a new Motor-Home trailer at Grand Rapids, Mich. The Aladdin Co. of Bay City, Mich., has just produced a new Mayflower trailer.

645 Tourist Trailers Jam the Tampa Municipal Park

Life Magazine Jan 30, 1939

The white oblongs in the airview above are the roofs of 645 trailers assembled in Tampa, Fla., for the 19th annual convention of the Tin Can Tourists of the World. Beside them are the darker rectangles of their concomitant cares. You are looking down on the Tampa Municipal Trailer Park on Jan. 16, opening day of the tourists’ two-week convention. Before it adjourned, Tampa’s trailer population had been swelled by 1,200 rolling homes.

Oldest of the four national trailer clubs, the Tin Can tourists was first organized as an itinerant campers’ association in 1919. Today it boasts 97,000 members of who it demands no dues, requires nothing save the sanitary preservation of the camp sites, assistance of fellow trailerites on the road, extinction of fires. Most of them are between 35 and 50 years old, spend three to six months annually in their trailers (for which they paid $50 to $3,000) and own stationary homes. Their motto: The Golden Rule. Their greeting: “How’s your hitch?” Their convention aim: fun.

TCT and Religion

Billy Graham in “Called to Preach” indicated that he began his ministry preaching at a Tin Can Trailer Park. “On Sundays I often preached on streets of Tampa, sometimes as many as five or six times a day. But in those days, the greatest ministry that God opened up to me was the trailer parks. One of them, the largest (or close to it) in the country was known as the Tin Can Trailer Park. Two ladies there had gotten the concession to hold religious services on Sunday nights, but they had no preacher; they asked me if I would come. The crowds ran anywhere from 200 to 1,000. They would take up a collection, which I think the ladies kept and used for some worthy project, and they would give me $5.00 – a tremendous help to my meager budget. …From that night in 1938 on, my purpose and objectives in life were set. I knew that I would be a preacher of the Gospel.

Tin Can Tourists in Bradenton, FL

Once upon a time, these folks and their tiny trailers were a major vehicle in Florida’s tourist industry.

That was the 1930s and ’40s, and their enduring presence has been felt for years at Braden Castle and Bradenton Trailer Park.

They were among the Camping Tourists of America, hundreds of thousands of people who flocked to Florida as a winter retreat after World War I.

The Tin Can Tourists are now more of a club with winter conventions, but their legacy remains.

“When you talk about tourism, that’s the beginning – where it all started,” said Gary Bogart, owner of Jake’s Automotive and an active member of Bradenton Kiwanis, which once owned Bradenton Trailer Park. “And we all know how much we feed off it now.”

Braden Castle, once home to plantation owner Joseph Braden, became a destination for Tin Can Tourists after the CTA bought a 34-acre tract for $16,000 in the 1920s. It became a tight-knit community where the trailers and small homes stood but a few feet apart.

The roots of the Bradenton Trailer Park go back to 1936, when Bradenton Kiwanis leased land from the city to build the trailer park to draw tourists.

Bob Sweat, a Bradenton native, Supervisor of Elections and Kiwanis member for 28 years, remembers seeing what he described as “tiny (trailers) that were about 8 feet by 16 feet. They’d come down, stay for two, three months, go back north and eventually they just started staying.

“Nobody was really crazy about building a trailer park other than our (Kiwanis) forefathers,” Sweat said. “What tourism was in the ’30s and ’40s certainly isn’t what it is today. I don’t know how many folks flew down here unless they were part of baseball team. But the trailer park grew, thank God, more and more and more.”

The club’s initial $17,000 investment grew into a 40-acre, 596-lot park that Kiwanis sold in 1997 for $8.8 million. Those proceeds were put into a foundation that enables to club to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in the community annually.

Thirteen Notable Dates in RV History

  • ca. 1901: The first motor homes are built as special-order units by auto body builders.
  • 1907: Henry Ford introduces the first mass-produced Model T Fords, automobiles with a 2.9-liter, four-cylinder engine that make auto camping affordable for most Americans for the first time.
  • 1910–15: The first manufactured, mass-produced RVs—folding camping trailers—start coming off the line from Los Angeles Trailer Works, Auto-Kamp Trailers in Saginaw, Michigan, and other pioneers.
  • 1917: The first fifth-wheel trailer is built by airplane manufacturer Curtiss-Wright; its name probably originated from the trailer hitch, which is located in the center of the towing truck’s bed and could be considered a “fifth” wheel after the four on the bottom of the trailer unit.
  • 1919: The Tin Can Tourists gather for their first rally, in a Florida campground near Tampa called DeSoto Park, with 20 members present, most of them Model T owners; by the mid-1930s, the club numbered 150,000.
  • 1922: Fifteen million auto campers hit the road, according to the New York Times, most of them sleeping on cots, in tents, or in “newfangled houses on wheels.”
  • 1923: There are 7,000 free campgrounds in the United States, including Denver’s Overland Park, with 800 campsites, piped water, a garage, restaurant, beauty shop, billiards hall, soda fountain, and eight electric washing machines.
  • 1926: Fords equipped with Weidman Camp Bodies are first produced in Tonawanda, New York; the 1929 model sells for $1,900.
  • 1962: John Steinbeck publishes Travels with Charley about his RV journey around America with his elderly poodle.
  • 1966: Winnebago becomes the first mass-production motor home assembly line, turning out its early models (with moldings above the windshield that resembled eyebrows) in lengths of 17, 19, and 22 feet.
  • 1966: David Garvin begins selling RV parts and camping accessories at his family’s campground in Bowling Green, Kentucky; by 1993, his chain of Camping World stores (which he calls “Toys ‘R’ Us for grown-ups”) has become the world’s largest retailer of camping supplies with 78 stores, 10 million mail order catalogs distributed annually, and a sales base of $150 million.
  • 1967: Charles Kuralt rents a Dodge motor home to begin broadcasting “On the Road,” his famous series of CBS-TV news features that brought small-town Americans and their stories into the living rooms of people everywhere. During his 27 years on the road, Kuralt used six different motor homes; the last, a 29-foot FMC motor coach, is in the Henry Ford Museum near Detroit.
  • 1976: Winnebago Industries introduces the Heli-Home, a helicopter camper for off-road exploration that could sleep six; we note it’s no longer included in their published brochures.

RV History:The Tin Can Tourists

They called themselves “Tin Can Tourists.” They braved the dust and mud to drive their tin lizzies across the United States before transcontinental roads were paved, camping by the side of the road, heating tin cans of food on a gasoline stove, and bathing in cold water. They dressed in their Sunday clothes in the days before jogging suits and running shoes. A photograph of one 1920s camping club shows owners in front of their Weidman Camp Body vehicles, the men in fedoras, suits, and ties, and the women in dresses, cloche hats, stockings, and high-heeled shoes.

It took ingenuity to travel across the country in those days before the first motel, which opened in 1925 in California. In 1921, for instance, Lee Scoles of Fort Wayne, Indiana, converted his 1916 Federal truck to “a house on wheels” and drove it on an 8-month, round-trip journey to San Francisco with 11 relatives aboard. Such additions as solid rubber tires, a canvas awning, cots, a stove, and washtubs added to their comfort, according to his granddaughter Alice Worman, herself a motor home owner, who chronicled the story in Lifestyles, one of many such publications dedicated to RVing.

According to a story in RV West magazine, the family of Charles Ulrich set out for California in 1929 in a General Motors truck body mounted on a Ford chassis, with built-in bunks, overhead wardrobe storage, and a dining table with six folding chairs. The interior was polished mahogany and on the rear was a caboose-type open platform with iron railings. After their “once-in-a-lifetime” trip, which continued on to Hawaii aboard a Matson Line cruise ship, the Ulrichs stored the camper until the 1960s, when it was purchased by a group of hunters to serve as a forest base camp.

Originally, auto camping was regarded as a rich man’s hobby. The well publicized outings of auto manufacturer Henry Ford, inventor Thomas Edison, naturalist John Burroughs, and tire manufacturer Harvey Firestone, who called themselves “the four vagabonds” as they camped in America’s parks, had paved the way. Interestingly, it was the affordability and popularity of Henry Ford’s Model T, which made its debut in 1909 that helped bring auto camping to the average American.

  • The first campgrounds were free, built and maintained by cities and towns hoping to attract affluent travelers who would spend money while they were in town. In the days before World War I, only the affluent had the time and money to go auto camping. When Ford’s Model T made auto camping affordable for everyone, campgrounds started charging fees to discourage some of the overflow crowds.
  • One early pair of auto campers was a couple who were fearful their new travel trailer might pull the rear end off their car, so the husband drove the car and the wife sat in the trailer for the entire journey watching the car’s rear end to make sure nothing happened to it.
  • Highways were notoriously bad in the early days. Quotes from the memoirs of some 1924 auto campers who termed themselves “Modern Gypsies” and wrote about a local resident telling them, “That’s a good road; somebody just made it through there yesterday.” Later, he says, the travelers commented, “When we left New York for Chicago, we were motorists. When we left Chicago for California, we were pioneers.”

History from the 1938 Tin Can Tourists of the World, Inc. Constitution and By-Laws Booklet

The closing days of 1919 found motor camping in Florida in its infancy, as evidenced from the fact that on December 1st of that year, only twenty-two camping outfits were to be found in De Sota Park, Tampa, the first mobile camp ground in the state. These pioneers, in order that they might become better acquainted with each other, gathered in small groups around a number of camp-fires, where they whiled away the evenings by singing songs and telling stories, as well as relating many thrilling experiences in road life. There were at that time no worth-while highways or camps and the tourists after a hard days drive of some forty or fifty miles often had to spend the night by the lonely roadside.

One of the early campers in De Sota Park, Mr. James M. Morrison of Illinois, conceived of the idea of forming an organization, the objects of which were:

  1. To unite fraternally all auto campers.
  2. To establish a feeling of friendship.
  3. To provide clean and wholesome entertainment at all meetings.
  4. To spread the gospel of cleanliness in all camps, as well as help enforce the rules governing all public camp grounds.

The organization meeting was held in De Sota Park, in January 1920, and a constitution and by-laws was adopted at a future meeting. The three high points were:

  1. The Name – “Tin Can Tourists of America.”
  2. The Slogan – “No fees! No Dues! No graft!”
  3. The Motto – “Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you.”

But little change has been made in the basic principles of the organization since its formation, save the word “World” has been substituted for the word “America” in the name. In 1937 the organization was incorporated. The name now is “Tin Can Tourists of the World, Inc.” The organization held its first Annual Convention the following season in De Sota Park, Tampa.

Annual Conventions and Royal Officers

  • 1920-1921 – Desota Park, Tampa. Royal Chief, J. M. Morrison, Chicago, Ill.; Royal Vice-Chief, G. M. Tremaine, Fredonia, N.Y.; Royal Secretary, Mrs. R. C. Kimball Deport, Texas; Royal Treasurer, Mrs. J. L. Truesdale, Minneapolis, Minn.
  • 1921-1922 – Gainsville, Florida. Royal Chief, G. M. Tremaine, Fredonia, N.Y.; Royal Vice-Chief, “Grandpa” Hawkins, Noblesville, Ind.; Royal Secretary, Mrs. W. H. Husselman, Butler, Ind.; Royal Treasurer, Mrs. J. L. Truesdale, Minneapolis, Minn.
  • 1922-1923 – Desota Park, Tampa. Royal Chief, G. M. Tremaine, Fredonia, N.Y.; Royal Vice-Chief, “Grandpa” Hawkins, Noblesville, Ind.; Royal Secretary, Mrs. W. H. Husselman, Butler, Ind.; Royal Treasurer, Mrs. J. L. Truesdale, Minneapolis, Minn.
  • 1923-1924 – Tampa and Arcadia. Royal Chief, “Grandpa” Hawkins, Noblesville, Ind.; Royal Vice-Chief, Chas. W. Ballard, Girard, Ill.; Royal Secretary, Mrs. C. G. Elmore, Omaha, Neb.; Royal Treasurer, D. M. Furstenburger, Cardington, Ohio.
  • 1924-1925 – Arcadia. Royal Chief, O. G. Shoup, Detroit, Mich.; Royal Vice-Chief, E. A. Genia, Hart, Mich.; Royal Secretary, R. W. Vaughn, Rome City, Ind. Royal Treasurer, Ben C. Kennedy, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • 1925-1926 – Arcadia. Royal Chief, O. G. Shoup, Detroit, Mich.; Royal Vice-Chief, D. E. Huston, Columbus, Ohio; Royal Secretary, R. W. Vaughn, Rome City, Ind. Royal Treasurer, Ben C. Kennedy, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • 1926-1927 – Arcadia. Royal Chief, D. E. Huston, Columbus, Ohio; Royal Vice-Chief, J. C. Quinby, Chappaqua, N.Y. ; Royal Secretary, R. W. Vaughn, Rome City, Ind. Royal Treasurer, Ben C. Kennedy, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • 1927-1928 – Arcadia. Royal Chief, J. C. Quinby, Chappaqua, N.Y.; Royal Vice-Chief, D. L. Barlow. Huntington, W. Va.; Royal Secretary, L. E. Eigle, Lincoln, Nebr.; Royal Treasurer, Ben C. Kennedy, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • 1928-1929 – Arcadia. Royal Chief, D. L. Barlow. Huntington, W. Va.; Royal Vice-Chief, Fay King, Fulton, N.Y.; Royal Secretary, R. W. Vaughn, Rome City, Ind.; Royal Treasurer, Ben C. Kennedy, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • 1929-1930 – Arcadia. Royal Chief, Fay King, Fulton, N.Y.; Royal Vice-Chief, Frank Keenan, Morgantown, W. Va.; Royal Secretary, R. W. Vaughn, Rome City, Ind.; Royal Treasurer, Ben C. Kennedy, Indianapolis, Ind. – The Royal Chief being absent, Vice-Chief Keenan presided, and by action of the convention was granted all the rights and privileges of a Royal Chief.
  • 1930-1931 – Arcadia. Royal Chief, F. E. Sylvester, West Englewood, N.J.; Royal Vice-Chief, L. L. Vaughn, New Carlisle, Ind.; Royal Secretary, Mrs. E. S. Hobart, Buffalo, N.Y.; Royal Treasurer, Ben C. Kennedy, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • 1931-1932 – Sarasota. Royal Chief, R. W. Vaughn, Rome City, Ind.; Royal Vice-Chief, J. J. Kelly, Watkins Glen, N. Y.; Royal Secretary, Mrs. E. S. Hobart, Buffalo, N.Y.; Royal Treasurer, Ben C. Kennedy, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • 1932-1933 – Sarasota. Royal Chief, J. E. Martendill, Columbus, Ohio; Royal Vice-Chief, M. A. Dickey, Kansas City, Mo.; Royal Secretary, Mrs. E. S. Hobart, Buffalo, N.Y.; Royal Treasurer, W. O. Perkins, Noblesville, Ind.
  • 1933-1934 – Sarasota. Royal Chief, M. A. Dickey, Kansas City, Mo.; Royal Vice-Chief, William Hickey, Tuscola, Ill.; Royal Secretary, Edward Jungclas, Cincinnati, Ohio; Royal Treasurer, J. A. Smith, Deposit, N.Y.
  • 1934-1935 – Sarasota. Royal Chief, William Hickey, Tuscola, Ill.; Royal Vice-Chief, Ira L. Neely, Middleton, Ind.; Royal Secretary, Edward Jungclas, Cincinnati, Ohio; Royal Treasurer, James A. Smith, Deposit, N.Y.
  • 1935-1936 – Sarasota. Royal Chief, James A. Smith, Deposit, N.Y.; Royal Vice-Chief, Albert Carson, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Royal Secretary, Sewell B. Grout, Everett, Mass.; Royal Treasurer, Ira W. Green, Vassar, Mich.; Royal Assistant Secretary, Elliott W. Gyger, Cleveland, Ohio
  • 1936-1937 – Sarasota. Royal Chief, Ira W. Green, Vassar, Mich.; Royal Vice-Chief, E. A. Atwater, Lakewood, Ohio; Royal Secretary, Elliott W. Gyger, Cleveland, Ohio; Royal Treasurer, E. P. Goodman, Wooster, Ohio; Royal Assistant Secretary, John J. Timmerwilke, Terre Haute, Ind.
  • 1937-1938 – Sarasota. Royal Chief, C. C. McKnight, Coldwater, Mich.; Royal Vice-Chief, Oscar J. Peter, Winesburg, Ohio; Royal Secretary, E. E. Gill, Tampa, Fla.; Royal Treasurer, P. L. Eidamiller, Downer’s Grove, Ill.; Royal Assistant Secretary, M. Edw. Long, Lansing, Mich.
  • 1938-1939 – ……….. Royal Chief, Oscar J. Peter, Winesburg, Ohio; Royal Vice-Chief, Frank Van Epps, Portage, Wis.; Royal Secretary, Arthur D. Steele, Columbus, Ohio; Royal Treasurer, Harry Monde, Detroit, Mich.; Royal Assistant Secretary, Lloyd Cleveland, Iron Mountain, Mich.; Directors, C. H. Murray, L. W. Lightner, Paul Goldsworthy, B. G. Plant, E. A. McAllister and Joseph Havens

Winter Convention sites and dates

  • 2000 Tampa FL Trade Show
  • 2001-03 Tampa
  • 2004-05 Flywheelers
  • 2006-07 Cedar Key
  • 2008-11 Manatee St Pk
  • Sertoma Winter Convention began 2012.

Tin Can Tourists Tidbits

Official Colors: Black and Tan

Stated Objective: To Unite Fraternally All Auto Campers

Guiding principles: clean camps, friendliness among campers, decent behavior and to secure plenty of clean, wholesome entertainment for those in the camps

“after WW II the tourists gathered in Traverse City, every summer”

The success of the movement was said to be due to the legend that once you roll with a trailer you’ll never be satisfied with a stationary home again.

In 1982, Dorothy Trumble, of Clearwater, Florida, and TCT member, donated pictures to Florida Museum of History

Billie Vliet Tracy – El Paso, Texas- wrote of experiences traveling with her parents that is part of the Florida Museum’s collection

“Mobile Home and Trailer News” published weekly in Florida, carried a lot of TCT items.

Ode to the TCT The Tin Can forever Hurrah! Boys Hurrah! Up with the Tin Can, Down with the foe. We will rally round the campfire, We’ll rally once again. Shouting the auto camper forever, We will always be faithful. We will always be true. We will stand by the canner, our duty we will do. And we will rally around the campfire as we go passing through Shouting the auto camper forever. By W.H. Hesselman

The Little Lamp of Friendship The little lamp of friendship, We light along the way. Go shining on far down the years and brighten everyday. “Tis love that keeps them shining And sympathy and trust.” God help us that no lamp go out Because we let it rust. Unknown

Used metal ID tag on license plate – diamond shaped, TCT letter imprint (tan and black)

A Grand March kicked off the opening ceremonies.

Abide by this prayer ( from prayer delivered at meeting) – O’Lord grant us the power to do the things that we know are right and grant us the power not to do the things we know re wrong and grant us the knowledge to know the difference.

There was a definite rivalry between the campers and hotel owners. The hotels discouraged camping in public parks as contrary to public health and incidentally contrary to their business. They called them Tin Canners or those literally living out of tin cans, having limited facilities for cooking the tin can was a convenient item and a friend indeed.

The originals called themselves “Soupbone”

Our organization has a “tar and feather” element in it. The city of Tampa labeled the place (the camp), a nuisance and the better element were compelled to go to work and clean it out or lose their privilege as campers. Panhandlers were also declared as undesirables. When fishing was good the surplus of each individual fisherman was dumped on the ground, the less fortunate or slothful could help themselves.

Since 1933 when membership cards were first issued, over 43,500 have been placed on our filing list. Early Qualifications: ** over twelve years of age and good moral character. Must be living in a tent, car house, car, trailer or camp (tourist ) cottage, on or near the site of one of our meetings at the time application for membership is made. Applications must be made in person. Cost: Each applicant is required to purchase an official lapel emblem and each car carry on official car emblem. Membership card good for life, is given. At each official meeting each members pays for a registration card that entitles that member to all activities of the two weeks of meetings.

Three official meetings yearly, Annual summer reunion in some other city, annual winter homecoming and annual convention and trailer show held in Florida, – Thanksgiving reunion in Florida and an official Home Going gathering in Florida

Motto – “Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you.

Each camper also carried a large assortment of canned goods. There would be cans stashed under the seats, slung over the top, packed along the sides, tucked behind cushions and stacked on the floor.

Before going to bed be sure to lock the manipulating devices on your automobile so that no one may appropriate the carriage while you sleep. You might also place a six-shooter under your pillow. You will sleep just as well, and it might come in handy.

Tin Can Camper Exhibit at Museum of Florida History, Department of State, R.A. Gray Building, Tallahassee, Fl 32304

“trailordom’s most modern portable palaces are being shown this week.” News clip advertising TCT gathering in Tampa

“They called us Tin Can Tourists, because of our cars and the fact that canned food was frequently on our menus.”

“Most people would have nothing to do with us. They thought we were gypsies. And a lot of sheriffs met us at the county lines.”

“With the postwar (WWI) drop-off in industrial production in the North, many laid-off workers still had a cushion of money – and a Ford Model “T”. Instead of despairing, they decided, ‘Lets take a vacation.’ And they headed to Florida.”

“St. Petersburg had endured wisecracks in that era (20’s) as a “tin can” tourist town, with some avaricious natives avowing that the tourists ‘ arrived with one shirt and a $20 bill – and never changed either all winter’.”

” a new breed of winter tourists – restless, full of energy, frequently cosmopolitan rather than provincial, from cities instead of farms.“

“on display (at annual gatherings) are units ranging from small honeymoon homes to big macadam mansions, finished in padded leather. Prices vary from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.”

“If you met a (tin lizzie) on the road with a little tin can on the radiator cap, you knew he was a member and a gentleman.”

“It is said that before the typical tin Can Tourist relinquishes his hold on a 25-cent piece he gives it a farewell squeeze of such violence that the eagle on it frequently emits a strangled squawk of anguish.”

The official theme song of the T.C.T. “The More We Get Together” – The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.. For your friends are my friends, and my friends are your friends.

The main business of the Winter Convention was to decide when and where the Summer Convention was to be held, and vice versa.

Secret Handshake: Sawing motion

Secret sign: “C” made with thumb and forefinger

Those who have the cheaper trailers are known as the Tin Can Tourists, those who have the elaborate ones are veritable land yachtsman. Editorial; New York Times, August 8, 1936.

In his story “The Golden Honeymoon,” Ring Lardner follows his main characters on a trip to St. Pete, where the narrator/protagonist portrays, inter alia, the Tin Can Tourists.

Mexicans Fearful of Hobo Invasion

“Down in Mexico City the natives have the idea that the Annual Convention of the Tin Can Tourists, originally scheduled for there next winter, means the assembling of several thousand Americans of the hobo type, traveling in tiny cars held together by baling wire. These tourists, the Mexicans believe, sleep on the ground at night, get their food by fair means or foul and are more impecunious than a band of roving gypsies. “

The comment by the English editor of a Mexican paper was perpetrated before news of the fact that Mexico had been turned down by the directors of that organization and that Tampa had been selected instead.

The editor also referred to TCT members as hobo’s on wheels, driving second, third and forth rate cars and that they are basically nomads traveling from place to place and comparable to the old time tramp printer or the modern rider of the rods and in the box cars of the railways. It was a group of “Old Guard” officers that made the emotional selection of Mexico for the winter conclave.

It was a new board of Directors that vetoed the act as contrary to the best interest of the members as a whole, in view of the fact that no assurance had been obtainable regarding adequate facilities for the proposed encampment in Mexico City.

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